A gene that keeps people skinny

Scientists have identified what they claim is the first known “skinny gene” – raising the possibility of a new generation of drugs that will make it easier for people to stay thin.

Researchers analysed the genetic make-up of 47,102 Estonian adults and found that those who were metabolically healthy and thin tended to have unusual variants of a gene called ALK. “We all know these people: it’s around 1% of the population,” said Dr Josef Penninger, of the University of British Columbia, who led the study. “They can eat whatever they want. They don’t do squats all the time but they just don’t gain weight.”

In experiments on mice, they found that ALK seems to have an effect on nerve cells in the hypothalamus region of the brain, which plays a role in appetite regulation; this, in turn, affected how fat was stored in the body. The team then found that mice and fruit flies that had been stripped of the gene remained thin (or light in the case of the flies), even when reared on high-calorie diets. ALK inhibitors are already used in cancer treatments, and the researchers now plan to adapt such drugs to see if they can be used to stop people gaining weight. (The Week 6June 2020).

I am posting this to illustrate the importance of science, something shrugged off by far too many people.  Had the experts opinions been supported we would not have had this huge number of covid deaths.  Typical of the ignorance is the refusal to get flu and other preventative jabs. Some of it is pre-historic religious prejudice, some lack of education and understanding.  They put the health and lives of their own children at risk.  Shameful.

Millennials – the unluckiest generation

(A bit long, but important.  How millennials can benefit from the ideas of Epicurus)

For young people leaving college since 2008 the prospects of a full-time job have been stressful, to say the least.  Now, during this crisis, more than ever. Their grand-parent’s generation enjoyed almost full employment for the majority of their working lives, final salary pensions, health benefits,  sick leave, and paid holiday entitlement.  No longer.  These benefits have evaporated, and in their place has emerged the short-term contract, which offers no security and few benefits.  Meanwhile all too many young people are saddled with large education debts that are hard to reduce, given the employment situation.

This is a fact, and we have to deal with the insecurity as best we can. The cards are in the hands of employers.  So here are some Epicurean recommendations:

–           Abandon the consumer society you have grown up with.  Things don’t matter, people do.  If everyone stopped buying unnecessary things the exploitation would eventually stop (and so would the economy; on the other hand we would have freedom from our rulers, the corporations).  That Maserati you dream of is a five minute sensation.  Once you have it it is part of the scenery and you will want to find something else to hanker after.  The whole, massive marketing effort by industry is aimed at getting you to keep spending. Try stopping!

–   As a corollary to the rejection of consumerism, pull in your horns and save money.  How will you live otherwise in old age (will there be any Social Security by then?), or in the event of unemployment.  Americans have a bad savings record because they have been encouraged by companies to spend every penny and more, and credit has been historically cheap.   Use that credit card sparingly.

–  You need to be flexible in what you do. The future job market may require you to acquire new skills and learn the ins and outs of several businesses and industries.

–  Espouse the idea of lifetime learning and self-education.  Not only will you be interested in a host of subjects, but you will be more interesting to your friends and more able to adapt to changes in work.  It is possible that the extremes of specialization could fade and the idea of the educated generalists return, able to connect the dots and adapt to new opportunities.  We are too specialized for our own good.

–   Try to abandon the concept of after-office/factory time as being “time off” work.  Work should be something we enjoy, yes (if possible) but we should regard it as something that takes up part of our life and regard time with friends and time pursuing our activities as “time on”.  Work should be “time off”. We work to eat and to have a roof over our heads; it is not the be-all and end-all of existence. Don’t be a slave to the clock.

–   Not withstanding the above, be proud of a job well done. You need to look after your own morale.  So while you are at work do that little more than is required of you.  It also helps when your job review comes up.

–  You have to have something else to live for, apart from work. Nietzsche said, “He    who has a “why” to live can bear almost any “how”.” Throughout life you have to have a reason to look forward and find something you enjoy outside work, even if it takes time to find that something. Watching sport doesn’t cut it.   Don’t worry if you can’t immediately find something that you love – Van Gogh had no idea what he wanted to do with himself.  He only sold one painting in his whole life and had about four careers.  But he didn’t mind –  he at last found his true vocation and pursued it.  School seldom discovers all your talents, and in most families parents seldom do either.  Actually, over the course of, say, fifty years you change, mature and recognize for yourself interests and abilities you never dreamed of when you were young.   You have a duty to yourself to experiment with all sorts of activities until you find something you are competent in and feel passionate about.

Everything I have mentioned above is consonant with an Epicurean life: the rejection of consumerism and reckless spending, the saving for old age and unemployment, the lifetime learning and acquisition of new skills, the pride in a job well done.  Most of all, Epicurus would want you to enjoy life, have many friends, use your brain and intelligence to discuss and debate, and to find by trial and error, if you can, that special interest or skill that excites you and makes life worth living. (Robert Hanrott)



Dismantling the nation’s publicly funded schools.

It is common knowledge that the Education Department is run by a multi-millionaire devotee of scrapping everything to do with government if she has the power to do it.  This includes privatizing the public school system, and de facto making education even more of a distant prospect than ever for minorities.  By the way, she is apparently a devoted christian!  (which is relevant because of the curious definition of Christianity and  words of Jesus used by some – not all – christians.  I went to chapel while at school, every day of my life, so I am familiar with what Jesus actually preached).

In Tennessee parents and community member in Memphis and Nashville protested furiously when a voucher law was passed by a single vote, diverting taxpayers money to private schools.  It is no small deal:  in 2020-2021 it would divert $7,500 per student, or over $375 million over the first five years, to private schools and away from schools in Nashville and Memphis. The private schools are what they say they are – private. They are not held to the same educational standards as Tennessee public schools, as required by the state constitution, and most importantly in view of current events, are not bound by the same anti-discrimination statutes.

The creeping coup keeps creeping onward!

(The Humanist, May/June 2020)

The meaning of life in lockdown: an exchange of views

To The Times ( London)

The most lamentable thing about the epidemic is the almost uncontested surrender to the idea that the only meaning of human life lies with preserving human life. In the name of “keeping people safe”, the moribund die alone and the dead are buried without proper ceremony.

Meanwhile, mothers give birth without husbands, children cannot learn and the futures of young people are suspended. In addition, new friendships are thwarted, potential lovers denied and the rituals of religious faith and remembrance are set aside. This seemingly produces not a hiccup of queasiness. Instead we are happy to accede to the state-sponsored notion that we are all profoundly heroic simply by virtue of taking measures to keep ourselves alive.

Jolyon Fenwick, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

To The Times  ( Reply to above)

Mr Fenwick’s argument is powerful and stirring but he unfairly castigates those of us whom he regards as meekly acceding to the lockdown measures. We are not doing so “to keep ourselves alive”, we are doing so to keep others alive.

Dr David Bogod, Nottingham.     ( Reported in The Week, 6 June 2020)

My comment: Here we go again.  I am astonished that some people are so self- centered that they cannot be bothered to wear masks to protect other people, and so uncaring that they flock out in thousands to seaside beaches, ignoring social distancing.  I support Dr. Bogod – the point is that you could be covid positive and not  know it.  It is humane and decent not to take that risk and infect others.  This is Epicurus 101.

Taking advantage of the crisis

Foreign cities are taking advantage of the crisis to re- think their cities.  Mayors from Bogota to Budapest are exploiting the lack of parked cars by installing bike lanes in every likely spot.  Athens is widening its sidewalks, enlarging public squares and  banning traffic beneath the Acropolis. Melbourne is trying to put shopping , leisure and work within twenty minutes of the residents’ homes.  Paris is transforming itself so that everything in the center is just 15 minutes from the homes of all Parisians. New Zealand is discussing four day working weeks and other flexible working options

What are American cities doing, if anything? Washington DC, for instance, has a dismal public transport system, and can’t even bestir itself to renovate the  canal which should be an important public amenity, and which is becoming instead a sewer.

Businesses that used to be attractions may never reopen.  If cities are engines of economic growth then this is the moment for those with any vision to reimagine what feels like quite the opposite of an exciting metropolis .

A re- think is needed because there was a drift away from big cities happening before the virus arrived, not to mention the effects on office space of business-by-Zoom. Cities have to be made attractive to keep their populations and their businesses.  It is convenient to live in a busy city, rather than have to get into a car every time you want a bottle of milk.  But what happens when bottles of milk are no longer so available?  Cue for massive falls in house values, probably avoidable had we energetic and imaginative leaders.

P.S: We have just had local council elections, and it looks as if just such an energetic, young and imaginative candidate might have won. A drop in an ocean, but I voted for her in any case.

Deaths in care homes

Across Europe coronavirus is shining a harsh light on how we, as societies, treat our most vulnerable groups. In Spain, the army found abandoned old people dead in their care home beds. In France a former minister said residents in some care establishments had been shut in their rooms for six weeks after family visits were banned.

Now academics have revealed that in Italy, Spain, France, Ireland and Belgium, an average of 50% of Covid-19 deaths are taking place in care homes. In the UK, which is predicted to have the worst coronavirus outcome in Europe, people who die with coronavirus symptoms in care homes are not even counted in the daily virus death tallies. But the estimates are shocking.

Is ageism the reason that care home staff are often the least trained and lowest paid, when their skills should make them among the most valued? Is the virus sweeping through these homes precisely because of low pay, lack of testing and protective equipment? And are older people’s rights better guaranteed in some parts of Europe than others?

As European governments edge towards easing restrictions, has quarantine been more tolerable in Europe’s more equal societies? (Katherine Butler, The Guardian)

My take:  I recently posted a piece on the resentment felt by young people for the baby boomers as a generation.  I happen to sympathise, but in sympathizing I can’t condone the attitude of some who apparently are reported to shrug and say, “The Covid 19 deaths are mainly among old boomers. Why should I care?”.  This may be apocryphal, but wouldn’t surprise me.

Actually, I have personal experience of a certain number of care homes near London, going back twenty years.  There is truly nothing new about the terrible conditions in some of these homes, and it has nothing to do with millennials and everything to do with local authorities doing their job for the elderly on the cheap, and drugging the inmates to keep them quiet. I had at the time an elderly relative with a serious lifelong health condition.  My wife and I decided under no circumstances to submit Mary to what looked like living death. It was a moral issue.

Care homes anger

Toronto, Canada

Canada has been shaken by a disturbing report detailing the conditions found in long-term care homes ravaged by Covid-19 in Ontario and Quebec. In Canada, around 80% of all Covid deaths – those of more than 6,000 residents – have been in care homes, a much higher proportion than in the US or Europe. Some 1,400 soldiers were deployed to homes last month to help cope with the crisis – and the military has now detailed what they found there: overwhelmed staff, unsanitary conditions and desperate patients whose cries for help were ignored for hours on end. The PM, Justin Trudeau, said Canada’s “failure” to protect its elderly has left him with feelings of “anger, of sadness, of grief”. As of Wednesday, the Covid-19 death toll in Canada stood at 7,395 (a rate of 196 per million of population, compared with 327 in the US).


Student homelessness in the US

A new report by the National Center for Homeless Education has found that the  number of homeless students in the US is the highest in over a decade.

The most recent data, recorded in 2017-18, shows that the figure of 680,000 homeless students reported in 2004-05 had more than doubled. The research measures the number of children in schools who report being homeless at some point during an academic year and as such does not show the total population of homeless young people in the US.

 The main suspects are insufficient income, unaffordable housing, domestic violence and, recently, the opioid crisis. 

       – Homelessness in the US is usually linked to the national housing crisis.   Millions of people spend more than half their income on housing, and many report that they understandably cannot afford to buy a house. Increasing rents and a housing shortage have forced thousands of people in California, for instance,  to live in caravans or inadequate housing.

       – Then there is the changing economy, with factories closing down, and the rise of the insecure, dire gig economy, which leaves parents and their children unable to pay for a roof over their heads. 

         – Thirdly, the opioid crisis (almost 2 million people are addicted to prescription drugs) has also caused some families to break up or children to be removed from their homes.

         –  A disproportionate number of homeless youth are LGBT, according to the University of California Williams Institute.  Nearly seven in 10 said that family rejection was a major cause of becoming homeless. Abuse at home is  another major problem .

And believe it or not, in a rich, advanced country, less than a third of homeless students were able to read adequately,  and scored even lower in mathematics and science.  

My take:   1,300.000 (approximately) homeless young people!   Can this be true?  How can society allow young people, inadequately educated, to be thrown onto the street?  I wonder at the dreadful level of education outside the cozy corner of elite schools in any case.  There is a scary lack of general knowledge which one encounters all too often. But not being able to read properly!  Did I read that correctly?  No wonder you find young men ( especially) looting shops when they get the opportunity.  They need the goods. We should hide our heads in shame.

Optimism (if you can manage some)

People with optimistic outlooks tend to live longer than their more negative peers, researchers at Boston University School of Medicine have found.

The study drew on data from two long-running studies of Americans aged over 60: one of 1,500 male war veterans, and one of 70,000 female nurses. At the start of both, the participants had completed questionnaires to gauge how optimistic they were, and had also been asked about other factors likely to influence their longevity, including diet, health and exercise.

Analysis of the data, adjusted to take account of these “confounders”, revealed that most optimistic participants lived 10% to 15% longer on average than the least optimistic ones, and that they were significantly more likely to live to the age of 85. “Healthier behaviours and lower levels of depression only partially explained our findings,” said lead researcher Dr Lewina Lee. “Initial evidence from other studies suggests that more optimistic people tend to have goals and the confidence to reach them, are more effective in problem-solving, and they may be better at regulating their emotions during stressful situations.”

The exciting possibility raised by the findings is that we may be able to “promote healthy and resilient ageing by cultivating psycho-social assets such as optimism” in people. (The Week,  7 September 2019)

My comment:  All fine and well, but in my opinion there are too many threats to human rights and freedoms, too many health and employment insecurities, too much power given to the super-rich,  not to mention too many foreign challenges, to talk about optimism.  Hope maybe, but only someone who ignores current events and lives in la-la land can feel happy and confident living in  either the US or the UK at this time.  Would someone reading this be kind enough to suggest reasons why I am being unduly gloomy, given that I advocate the humanistic and reassuring thoughts of Epicurus?

Happy to use email for any prolonged discussion.


Deep sadness

At 10.30 last night one or more helicopters were flying at low altitude over our house (I counted 15 passes).  Three rapid shots, sounding as if they came from an automatic gun of some kind, rang out on a nearby street.

Crowds have  apparently looted and destroyed shops in our neighborhood, including the two pharmacies upon which we depend (It is 8.20 a.m as I write, and I haven’t seen the damage).  On the local listserve a woman neighbor wrote early this morning: “I looked out of my window and there was antifa on the corner opposite the pharmacy” (sic).  Really?!  Were they advertising “antifa”in neón lights?

And this is America?!



Misleading figures on US annual flu deaths

At a White  House briefing in late February Donald Trump reassured the nation that there was little chance of the virus causing significant disruption, and that the flu kills from 25,000 people to 69,000 people a year. The coronavirus would be no worse than the flu, and who noticed flu deaths particularly? In April further comparisons with the flu persuaded people that, since the comparison with flu was apparently holding, the country should be reopened for business.

But it turns out to have been a massive misunderstanding.  The corona virus deaths are actual deaths of real people. The 25,000 to 69,000 numbers that Trump cited do not represent actual, counted flu deaths per year; they are estimates that the CDC produces by multiplying the number of flu death counts reported by various coefficients produced through complicated algorithms. These coefficients are based on assumptions of how many cases, hospitalizations, and deaths they believe went unreported. In the last six flu seasons, the CDCs reported number of actual confirmed flu deaths­ as between 3,448 to 15,620, far lower than the numbers commonly repeated by public officials and even public health experts.  Doctors simply don’t see the huge number of flu deaths claimed by CDC statistics.

There is, in short, little data to support the CDCs assumption that the number of people who die of flu each year is on average six times greater than the number of flu deaths that are actually confirmed. To make it worse, the CDC figures also include pneumonia deaths!  The objective is, no doubt, to encourage people to get flu shots, a reasonable thing to do, but the estimates should not be used in comparison to those of Covid 19 as a weapon to perilously open up the economy for political purposes, with the message that it is “just another flu”.

(Information from an article by Jeremy Samuel Faust in Scientific American, April 28, 2020.  Article edited for length by me)




Epicurus and the swerve

If you haven’t read it Stephen Greenblatt’s book, “The Swerve: How the World Became Modern”, do try to find time to do so.  It a very readable.  It introduces the modern reader to the most famous of Epicurean books, de rerum natura of Lucretius.  Greenblatt’s book, which won several prestigious awards, is contentious because it pictures a medieval Christianity mired in reaction and recounts how atomism and the swerve marked the end of feudalism.

The atom as described by Epicurus is obviously very different in fact from what we now know as an atom.  What would you expect?  Times, and technical knowledge, have moved on.  But despite the protests of modern christians, who panned the book as misleading, I maintain that the efforts of the early Epicureans to explain the universe in a rational manner laid the foundation for a modern society free of obscurantism and the deadening hand of centuries of medieval religious dogmatism.  We haven’t quite got there yet, or abandoned outdated things like celibate priests (with some accompanying disgusting behavior) but young people are voting with their feet, and good for them.

Now we have to ensure that those youngsters are brought up with a humanist , Epicurean regard, care and consideration for others.

Fake news

Fake news may not be as widespread as thought. An analysis of the daily media consumption of people in the US found fake news made up 0.15 per cent of time people spend consuming media. The study found traditional news outlets may be a greater source of misinformation than fake news (Science Advances, advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/14/eaay3539  (New Scientist , 23 May 2020).

My comment:   Are they saying that the New York Times and the Washington Post are greater sources of misinformation than the obvious lies and fabrications that abound on Facebook and other social media?

I read the New Scientist every week – it is a wonderful publication (in the interests of fairness to all, I’m sure some of the articles are based on mistaken data.  This may be one of those rare pieces of research and reporting?).   The Russians, for instance, are conducting a cyber war against the US – against us all. They are not alone.   If you believe a word they say on social medfia, I despair).   The whole point is to get us all to suspect everything we read.  It is proving amazingly successful.



America’s food chain

Warren Buffett famously observed that “only when the tide goes out, do you discover who’s been swimming naked”.  And Covid-19 represents “an ebb tide of historic pro-portions”.

One thing it has exposed with brutal clarity are the flaws of America’s industrialised food system. On one side, there are empty supermarket shelves; on the other, farmers discarding milk, eggs and animals because they can’t get produce to market.

This is the result of “economic efficiency gone mad”. Since the 1980s, the US food industry has become absurdly concentrated: just four companies now process more than 80% of the country’s beef cattle; a single plant in South Dakota processes 4% of the pork Americans eat. This has pushed down prices, but resulted in a supply chain so brittle that the closure of a single plant causes havoc. And such disruptions, caused by Covid-19, have been all too common of late. And little wonder, given that the meat-packing lines are staffed by poorly paid workers who must stand shoulder to shoulder, cutting and deboning animals so quickly that they can’t pause long enough to cover a cough, let alone go to the bathroom. The US is paying the price for a food system that has put cost savings ahead of every other consideration. (Michael Pollan,The New York Review of Books  23 May 2020).

My comment:  It’s great that this issue is now being discussed. There is too much industrial concentration and too little competitiveness. The politicians have turned a blind eye to it, and the obscene pay of the bosses, in return for financial support.  The system is corrupt.  It is bad for democracy, for the lousily paid workers and for the health of the population.

The irony is that the Administration wants to lower, if not totally stop, immigration of desperately poor people with the aid of the famous and expensive wall.  Without the immigrants the bosses of the food processing companies would not have their huge incomes, and the politicians would have to forego a sizable portion of their electoral donations.  And the food market would grind to a halt.  Has anyone thought this through?  The system needs the cheap labour.

What has this to do with Epicureanism?  A desire for peace  of mind and a feeling of security and pride in a just and fair system for all.

Bagavad Ghita, part 2

(16.15). ( Some people think…)  I am wealthy and well- born!  Who can rival me? I will show my greatness by giving alms and making public sacrifices.  I will rejoice in my glory”.  Thus they boast,  befuddled by their own lack of wisdom.

(16.16). Addled in thought, caught in a spider’s web of delusion, craving only sensual “delights”, they sink in life , and even more so after death, to a foul hell.

(16.17). Vain, heedlessly obstinate, intoxicated by pride in wealth, hypocritical in whatever sacrifices they perform, careless of scriptural injunctions….

(16.18).  egotistical, ruthless, arrogant, lascivious, prone to fits of rage, these evil- intending persons despise Me, though for all that I dwell in them, as in all beings.”

My take:   Years ago one can imagine the man or woman in the street, reading the above and thinking, “It can’t apply here!  It’s inconceivable. Collectively, we are well- governed and rational, on top of the world. Yes, there are important things that need fixing, but in general the country is moving in the right direction”.

In 1963 I hitch-hiked round the US. y car and airplanevisiting 48 States and encountering rich and poor, black and white – a cross- section of the population, getting temporary jobs as I went.  Hardly a day went by when I wasn’t told, “Isn’t this just a great country?”. They meant it and it was; and very open and generous, too.

Epicurean peace of mind?  Not today.

Excerpt from the Bhagavad Gita, Part 1

……..Virtuous people find it difficult to believe that such evil exists on earth. It’s proponents, moreover, often proclaim (if they have a degree of intelligence) teachings that are designed purposefully to win others to their side: teachings like “the greatest good for the greatest number” and “each according to his need, from each according to his capacity to give”.  On the field of actual activity, however, they show themselves nothing but power hungry, ruthless, and utterly cynical in the application of their so-called “ideals”.

Such people appear in every age.  Usually they are more or less successful according to how many dissatisfied Shudras and idealistic but undiscriminating intellectuals they can persuade to fill their ranks.

(16:10).  Abandoning themselves to insatiable desires, hypocrites, pretending a noble purpose, filled with self-conceit, insolent (to anyone who disagrees with them), their concepts (assuming they have any) twisted by delusion; their actions prompted solely by impure motives.

(16:11). convinced that the fulfillment of physical passion is man’s highest goal, confident that there is no world (and no life) but this one, such persons, until the moment of death, are engrossed in earthly cares and concerns.

(16:12) Bound by the fetters of hundreds of selfish hopes and expectations, enslaved by passion and anger, they strive by unlawful means to amass fortunes with which to purchase sensual physical pleasures.

(16.13) “This much” they say, “I have acquired today, putting me in a position to attain this desire. I have this much money at present; my goal now is to acquire more”.

(16.14)  Or they say: “Today I have slain this enemy.  Next, I shall slay more.  What I’ve wanted I possess. I am successful, powerful and happy”.

 My comment:  It was ever thus.  Regrettably, the sort of people discussed above seem to scrabble to the top, trampling underfoot any who oppose them.  These attacks by the hyper-ambitious, self-reverential and unempathetic seem to come in bursts.  The last outbreak required a worldwide war to dislodge Hitler and  Mussolin, leaving the malevolent Stalin still out and about.  Now we have another eruption, as usual supported by the aggrieved and the economically insecure, who nonetheless support the massive wealth disparities in society.   When will we ever learn?

The robot priest

A robot priest has been installed at a 400-year-old temple in Kyoto. Costing almost £800,000, the android Kannon is 6ft 5ins tall and is modelled on the Buddhist deity of mercy. “With AI, we hope it will grow in wisdom to help people overcome even the most difficult troubles,” says Tensho Goto, a priest at the Kodaiji temple. The robot can move its head, arms and torso, and is programmed to deliver sermons from the Heart Sutra, a Buddhist text. “You cling to a sense of selfish ego,” the robot warns worshippers. “Worldly desires are nothing more than a mind lost at sea.”  (The American Conservative, 28 September 2019)

Firstly, Epicurus was saying something remarkably similar nearly two thousand years ago.  He didn’t need a programmable, moving robot.

And why believe a machine without empathy and a mind of its own, spouting pre-digested dogma?  This story seems to indicate a collapse in the trust accorded human priests, or maybe a lack of candidates for the priesthood in the first place?  Seems to be a world-wide problem.  

Guns, part 2

Below are some of the ideas that have been put forward to deal with gun violence:

  1.  Background checks

There are several major bipartisan bills drawing renewed attention in the Senate at the moment, aiming to expand background checks for gun sales.

The Fix NICS Act corrects failures in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, provides more funding to states to improve their background check systems, and “penalizes political appointees at federal agencies if they don’t take steps to maintain their records.” ( Hah!)

Since 22% of sales online and at gun shows are conducted without background checks, legislation would close the gap. A previous bill proposed by Sen. Susan Collins to do just this was opposed by the NRA and, amazingly, a bill restricting gun sales to people on a terror watchlist. (patriotic, eh?)
2. Raising the age to buy rifles from 18 to 21

Hand guns can only be purchased at 21, so why not rifles? Missing not a heartbeat the NRA opposes this, calling it “gratuitous gun control”.

3.  Assault weapons ban

One Republican politician, Rep. Brian Mast, R-FL, who lost both legs in Afghanistan, has said that the AR-15 and like weapons gave mass shooters “the best killing tool the Army could put in my hands.”

After a series of high-profile mass shootings, President Bill Clinton signed the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, which restricted features on semi-automatic pistols, rifles and shotguns. It expired in 2004 and the odds of it being passed again in Congress are remote.

4.  Bumpstock ban

Bumpstocks increase the rate of fire to resemble an automatic weapon. Bi-partisan efforts to ban them were effectively nixed by the NRA, which wanted to “regulate” them, not ban them. What regulation actually meant is dubious. However, some state and local governments have advanced their own bump stock bans.

5.  “ Red flag” laws

This involves giving courts more authority to confiscate weapons from people who are considered a threat to themselves and others. Five states have “red flag” laws that allow a judge to issue an extreme risk protection order that temporarily restricts a person from owning a gun if family, household members and police can convince them they’re a danger. This could reduce suicide rates and contain potential violence early on.  Since this idea targets individual behavior rather than control firearms themselves, this proposal does have some bi- partisan support. But, guess what? the NRA thinks such a red flag laws  would “deprive people of their Second Amendment rights without due process of the law.”!   ( It’s o.k, lads – just go on killing!)

6.  Arming teachers

Possibly the most stupid proposal to do with guns in the last century .

7.   My take:  I have the dubious experience of having a .303 military rifle bullet fired at me by one of my own soldiers, carelessly cleaning his rifle with a round up the spout. The bullet grazed the top of my head, passed through my hair and lodged in the door behind me.  I have told this story before, but I repeat it because it explains why I believe that all guns should be licensed, locked away (when not being used for hunting), and that all gun owners should be trained and certified as safe owners.

This annual massacre of the mostly innocent is obscene and disgusting, not to mention contrary to all known christian teaching (except the unique type preached in the US).   It is certainly un-Epicurean. It also misunderstands the intentions of the Founders with regard to militias, but then so few people know any history and emascúlate what they do know.


Military-style guns – why do they need them?

Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”  So exclaimed Beto O’Rourke during the recent Democratic primary debate, endorsing the idea of mandatory buy-backs of assault weapons. It has become “the newest purity test” for Democratic candidates, but have they thought about the consequences of enforcing such a policy?

“There could be as many as ten million so-called assault weapons in private hands in the US, and moves to confiscate them would be fiercely opposed. At the very least it would require suspending Americans’ constitutional right to trial by jury, as it’s all too easy to imagine juries in, say, rural Montana refusing to convict firearms violators in the same way as “Massachusetts juries in the 1850s often refused to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act”. It could also lead to bloodshed.

“Gun control advocates scoff at the prospect of armed resistance, pointing out that defiant citizens would be vastly outgunned by the federal government. But remember the Waco siege in 1993, when the storming of a religious sect’s compound in Texas by the FBI led to the deaths of 82 people. Are the politicians advocating mass gun confiscations willing to be held “liable for the carnage that would result”?   (James Bovard, The American Conservative).

My comment:  We already have carnage, Mr. Bovard, without any attempt at confiscation, and the deaths are observed with indifference by the gun advocates, who care nothing for the bloodshed.  So much for Sunday church.

I was born in England. My father had a hunting gun (and a license for it) which was locked up when not in use.  Every three months a policeman visited to check that the weapon was under lock and key.  This rule never stopped my father from legal hunting. He was obeying a sensible safety law.

The foreign way allows reasonable people to have their hunting, and violent criminals and armed bullies cannot harm the public, which they do on a daily basis in America.  Tomorrow I will set out the actions needed to restore civilized life to America in so far as guns are concerned.


Anti-corona vaccine

The Trump administration has announced it is partnering with drugmaker AstraZeneca for at least 300 million doses of a corona virus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford, and is committing up to $1.2 billion to the effort.

As an alumnus of Oxford I am naturally proud that my alma mater is at the forefront of the fight against Covid 19.

But actually I am concerned (without knowing a thing about vaccine development) that this might turn out to be yet another problem that prolongs the crisis.  I gather that opinion polls are indicating that, apart from the nutcases who won’t be vaccinated at all, ever (!), respondents are expressing reservations about this new vaccine on the grounds that it has been developed too quickly and might cause more problems than it cures.  This attitude, very rational, emerges from repeated comments by experts that an effective vaccine is maybe as much as a year, eighteen months or even two years away, and that you cannot develop a cure this quickly.  Therefore , they will refuse to be treated with it, just in case.


Abortion: the ruthless scam connected with Roe v Wade

Norma McCorvey, who died in 2017, was the plaintiff known as Jane Roe in the 1973 landmark supreme court case Roe v Wade that led to abortion becoming legal in the United States, made, it turns out, a stunning deathbed confession.

In a new FX documentary McCorvey admits that her infamous reversal on abortion rights “was all an act”. Before she died at the age of 69, she revealed that her role as an anti-abortion advocate was largely funded by ultra-conservative groups such as Operation Rescue.

In 1969, a 22-year-old McCorvey was pregnant and scared. She’d had a difficult childhood, allegedly suffering sexual abuse from a family member. She’d been married at 16 but had left her husband. She had addiction issues. She’d had two children already and placed them for adoption. She was depressed. She was desperate for a safe and legal abortion. Texas, however, wouldn’t give her one. So she challenged the state laws and her case eventually went before the US supreme court, legalizing abortion across America.

After becoming the poster girl of the pro-choice movement, McCorvey performed a very public about-face in the 1990s. She found religion and became a vocal anti-abortion crusader.

As it turns out, it wasn’t God himself directing this new path. It was leaders from the evangelical Christian right. McCorvey received at least $456,911 in “benevolent gifts” from the the evangelical Christian right in exchange for her “conversion”.

“I took their money, McCorvey says in the documentary, and they’d put me out in front of the cameras and tell me what to say. It was all an act. I did it well, too. I am a good actress. Of course, I’m not acting now.”

The Rev Flip Benham, one of the evangelical leaders featured in the new documentary, has no moral qualms about how McCorvey, who was clearly vulnerable, was used. “She chose to be used,” he says. “That’s called work. That’s what you’re paid to be doing!” Ah yes, I remember reading that in the Bible: thou shalt pay others to cravenly lie.

The Rev Rob Schenck, another of the evangelical leaders featured, is rather more thoughtful. “For Christians like me, there is no more important or authoritative voice than Jesus,” he says. “And he said, ‘What does it profit in the end if he should gain the whole world and lose his soul?’ When you do what we did to Norma, you lose your soul.”

Sadly, it seems as though many anti-abortion extremists don’t have much of a soul to lose in the first place. While the right claims to stand for morality and family values they – as AKA Jane Roe makes very clear – are more than happy to lie and cheat in order to propagate their fringe beliefs.  Most Americans, on the other hand, have moderate views when it comes to abortion; according to a 2017 Pew study, 69% of Americans don’t think Roe v Wade should be overturned, only  a small but powerful group of hypocritical extremists with money who preyed on a vulnerable woman in the name of “family values”.  (Arwa Mahdawi, The Guardian, lightly edited for length).

My comment:  Forcing women to have unwanted babies is a grievous sin against humanity, potentially breeding yet more deeply unhappy, unloved human beings .  We need more happy, adjusted young people, not fewer.  And that is without the effects on the lives of the mothers.



Religious extremism in the US

Pastor Rich Vera, who runs a church in Florida, says he believes that faith can stop the coronavirus.  He is one of a vocal minority of Christians in America who feel it’s appropriate to gather to worship despite US federal advice to stay home, and who supports protests against the restrictions in place to try and limit the spread of coronavirus.

When asked whether he took responsibility at all for the increase in covid 19 cases,  he told a reporter “No, I don’t”.  (The Times 28 Apr 2020)

My comment:  A short while ago a woman was interviewed on television about attending a church service where there was no social distancing or masks worn.  Her reply to a journalist’s question about her vulnerability to the virus?

”I am protected by the blood of Jesus. No virus can affect me”.  (Yes, honestly!  I heard the woman say it with my own eyes). Me, I am covered by Aetna Insurance.

Seriously though, fools and fanatics are so sure of themselves and seem to care not a jot for others. They are the  self described “chosen people”, believing that science, and inoculations, are the work of the devil. The wise and intelligent are more self-aware, careful and un-selfish, that is the Epicurean way – respect the science and protect not only yourself but all around you, thoughtfully and kindly.

Is this the end of the democracy experiment?

I have a degree in Modern History, a subject weakly valued by American employers (don’t get me started!). One of my university tutors, Theodore Zeldin, was a simultaneous translator at the Nuremberg trials and a world expert on the great slump and the rise of Hitler. He spoke thirteen European languages, and  personally knew and interviewed several of the Nazi war criminals. His message was, ‘don’t think it can’t happen again. There is always a potential ruthless autocrat in the wings.’

I never thought about, or feared, a replay of those terrible Nazi years, but when a Trump administration insider commented that the current crisis was all a “bit” reminiscent of the “late” Weimar Republic, it rang a raucous bell. Uneasiness is, by definition, bad for ataraxia.  For the weak and aimless Weimar regime read the current non-functional, corrupted system and it’s chronic inequalities.

Society’s guardrails have crashed, and the volk are already bullying State leaders  with guns, even before the full effects of the pandemic have done their worst and normal people are badly affected.  What was frighteningly unimaginable could be very real.

Election day is six months away. The US may experience 25% unemployment and economic collapse. We stand to witness “between 100,000 and 240,00 American lives lost”, according to Dr. Deborah Birx, and she is a White House employee. As for the protesters, Birx labelled their conduct “devastatingly worrisome”.

Life and death are on the line, and severe economic and health effects can, and will, have unforeseen effects.  How this plays out at the ballot box remains to be seen. But history tells us: not well. You think an autocrat at the helm can never happen here? Hah!

The right prescription

I don’t understand why prescription medicine advertisements are allowed on TV or why anyone would think of trying one of the medicines after listening to the laundry list of warnings of possible side effects. But this is definitely an exception! 

Do you have feelings of inadequacy?

Do you suffer from shyness?

Do you wish you were a better conversationalist?

Do you sometimes wish you were more assertive?

Do you sometimes feel stressed?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist about Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the safe, natural way to feel better and more confident. It can help ease you out of your shyness and let you tell the world that you’re ready and willing to do just about anything.

You will notice the benefits of Cabernet Sauvignon almost immediately and, with a regimen of regular doses, you’ll overcome obstacles that prevent you from living the life you want.

Shyness and awkwardness will be a thing of the past. You will discover talents you never knew you had.

Cabernet Sauvignon may not be right for everyone. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not use it, but women who wouldn’t mind nursing or becoming pregnant are encouraged to try it.

Side Effects May Include:
Dizziness, nausea, vomiting, incarceration, loss of motor control, loss of clothing, loss of money, delusions of grandeur, table dancing, headache, dehydration, dry mouth, and a desire to sing Karaoke and play all-night Strip Poker, Truth Or Dare, and Naked Twister.

The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may make you think you are whispering when you are not.

The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may cause you to tell your friends over and over again that you love them.

The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may cause you to think you can sing.

The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may create the illusion that you are tougher, smarter, faster and better looking than most people. 

Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Scotch, Vodka or Bourbon and of course Beer may be substituted for Cabernet Sauvignon, with similar results.

( From Dr. Dan Dolan, bless him!)

You should know better than this, Governor

The Democrat governor of New York has a plan for a “Trump-proof” reopening of the Big Apple.  Andrew Cuomo has apparently hired “high-powered consultants” who will scientifically analyse the “key data points” to work out how to free up the region’s economy. And who are these brilliant consultants? McKinsey & Company, of course – a firm indirectly responsible for many of the problems America is now facing.

The reason New York has been desperately short of personal protective equipment, and other crucial medical equipment, is that every business has adopted a “just in time” inventory model that can’t handle system-wide surges in demand. The offshoring of manufacturing to Asia has also left the US without the domestic capacity to ramp up supplies of crucial items.

McKinsey was a leading advocate of both these trends. Indeed, you could call them “the super-spreader of an intellectual virus that has infected American business”. They also had a hand in the 2008 credit crunch, having actively promoted the securitisation of mortgage assets. And, according to one lawsuit, they helped “turbocharge” sales of the widely abused opioid drug OxyContin. Should we not, perhaps, be thinking about how to “McKinsey-proof” America? (Chris Buskirk, 5 May 2020)

My take: Andrew Cuomo is a good guy, very intelligent and decisive.  But everyone makes mistakes, and this is a mistake.  If anyone can point to anything McKinsey has done which is to the general benefit of the country, not just good for the rich and the big corporations (who can afford their humongous fees), please write in and inform me.

Standing up for history

To The Sunday Times

In 1960s Oxford I would see Cecil Rhodes’s statue, think how wrong he was and walk on. That is life in an open, tolerant country: bits of our history are sticking up everywhere, and we are free to admire, condemn or laugh at them. I prefer that to a country in which public art has to conform to a prevailing ideology.  (Mike Lynch, Cambridge, UK)

My comment:  Whether it is Cecil Rhodes or Martin Luther King, or a Southern general from the War between the States, those represented are inescapable parts of history.  There are too many ignorant people who want to move or destroy statues or memorials because the don’t like the history.  That is narrow- minded.  If they studied history properly they would develop an understanding.  The problem is that fewer and fewer students study history.  History is about human motivations and behavior, not about dates or ideology.